What does ‘next of kin’ mean?

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Unlike other countries, such as the USA, the phrase ‘next of kin’ is not legally defined in Australia. So, what does next of kin mean in Australia?

Although not legally defined, it is nevertheless a term that is recognised by the authorities when someone passes away – although there are minor differences from state to state. To help you understand the meaning of next of kin, our Wills and estate lawyers have broken it down for you below.


What does next of kin mean in NSW?

In NSW, the Coroners Act 2009 provides clear guidance as to how a next of kin is determined. In general terms, a next of kin is a person’s closest living blood relative or legal partner.

So, who is my next of kin?

The Act defines the priority order for closest living relative in this way:

  • Spouse (this includes a de facto partner)
  • Adult children
  • Parents
  • Parents
  • Adult siblings
  • An executor of the deceased person’s Will
  • A person who was the deceased’s legal representative immediately prior to the death, such as an estate planning lawyer.

The person chosen by this method will be known as ‘senior next of kin’ for the purposes of the Act.

Next of kin rights and responsibilities

When someone dies, there are a number of things that need to be organised, such as:

  • Making funeral arrangements
  • Notifying family members and friends
  • Registering the death with the state government and obtaining the death certificate
  • Administering the deceased person’s estate and distributing assets to the beneficiaries

If the deceased person has a Will, the nominated executor will handle the deceased estate administration. However, if the person died intestate (meaning without a Will), the responsibilities fall upon the next of kin, above the age of 18.

Please note: the next of kin can decline to take on these responsibilities, in which case it can pass onto the next in line. They are not bound by law to perform these duties.

Organ donations & post-mortem examinations

However, even where an executor is in place, there are some decisions that only the next of kin can make. The Human Tissue Act 1983 NSW states that an executor cannot make the following decisions, and they must be made by the next of kin:

  • Organ donations
  • Post-mortem examinations

It is possible, of course, that the deceased has been proactive enough to leave official direction regarding organ donations, and these wishes need to be respected. However, if no such direction has been provided, then it falls to the next of kin to make such decisions.

Next of kin vs emergency contact

An emergency contact is the first person that will be contacted if there’s been an emergency or if someone has died. More often than not, your emergency contact will be your next of kin (such as your partner or parent).

Next of kin disputes

Next of kin disputes are not uncommon, especially when there is no Will or certain family members believe they have not been adequately provided for from the deceased estate. In such situations, it’s always recommended you seek legal advice.

Learn more: contesting a Will

Owen Hodge is here to help

Now you know the answer to ‘what does next of kin mean?’, it’s time to start planning your estate.
The passing of a loved one can be stressful and emotional, especially when there is no Will. That’s why we always recommend you start planning your estate sooner than later, and make sure you nominate an executor and clearly state your emergency contacts and next of kin. With an experienced team of Wills and estate lawyers, Owen Hodge is here to help. Contact us today if you have any questions about your estate plan.

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